Asylum & Eye Contact in a Time of Division

(25.01.17) A night like this, I need to write, to walk, to be. And apologies if this one is a little too stream-of-consciousness, but it’s me.

What is real? The conversation I have at a networking event, yes, it feels good, but that business card I hand over, crumbled and a little discoloured from a longer-than-expected life in the pocket of my jeans, it’s all in vain. Real for a minute, sure. Speakers with humility, that’s real. Honest, raw, with passion. But speakers who speak for the purpose of having spoken? Even if interesting? Award-winning? I am gazing at a star, and a bright, rising one at that, but all I can feel is this nagging thought deep inside, “whenever I speak, be human, be honest, be real.”

What is real? My Uber driver across town to this event. I immediately recognize his Ethiopian accent. But not just any Ethiopian. A former national soccer star in the 1990’s, having travelled all across Africa for matches. But flying to Morocco through Rome for a match, his team had a layover. Passports hastily grabbed from the hotel front desk, and out him and his 15 teammates ran in their soccer uniforms, running towards asylum, running away from an oppressive dictatorship back home. No asylum, no professional football in Italy, no work, no hope – America. Google it, my driver tells me with his beautifully thick Ethiopian accent. We are in the center of downtown San Francisco, but as I read, article after article, as a man 5 minutes ago some stranger shares how at my young age he jumped, seeking a life that would only come with the humble beginnings of his football kit and his passport. But hey, aren’t we not supposed to talk to our Uber drivers? Uber drivers are real, full of lives and worlds and realities that teach me about a world I am understanding more and understanding less every day in which I dive deeper into the stories that bring it to life.

What is real? Watching Ashley Judd’s Nasty Girl speech and Trump’s inauguration speech. There are two sides to the narrative of history, and picking a side is good, healthy, I get it. I pick sides. But picking a side without knowing the other side? That’s not real, or fair, or open to the complexities and clashes that define our everyday realities.

What is real? The Tenderloin of San Francisco, the impoverished center of a city of astounding inequality. Real is eye contact. There is no need for a podcast on a night like this, the podcast is the poetry racing through my brain, the brief interactions of community I share with homeless men and women on the street.

Real is acceptance, community in a time of division. Real is engaging fully in the life story of a complete stranger. Real is the simplicity of eye contact and a smile between me in my startup world bubble and a man with a crumpled cigarette hanging from his lips.

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